Wednesday 30 November 2005

Yet yet more unintended consequences.

Many a good idea has been wrecked by dogmatism. Here's the latest:

THE drive for "green energy" in the developed world is having the perverse effect of encouraging the destruction of tropical rainforests. From the orang-utan reserves of Borneo to the Brazilian Amazon, virgin forest is being razed to grow palm oil and soybeans to fuel cars and power stations in Europe and North America. And surging prices are likely to accelerate the destruction


Rising demand for green energy has led to a surge in the international price of palm oil, with potentially damaging consequences. "The expansion of palm oil production is one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction in south-east Asia. It is one of the most environmentally damaging commodities on the planet," says Simon Counsell, director of the UK-based Rainforest Foundation. "Once again it appears we are trying to solve our environmental problems by dumping them in developing countries, where they have devastating effects on local people."

Quoth Stephen:

You can ignore markets, but that doesn't mean that markets will ignore you.


Monday 28 November 2005


When I first read about this

a recent ICM opinion poll indicates that 1 in 3 of those surveyed believed that a woman was responsible for being raped if she was flirting.

... more than a quarter (26%) of those asked said that they thought a women was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than one in five (22%) held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners. Similarly, more than a quarter of people (30%) said that a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk, and more than a third (37%) held the same view if the woman had failed to clearly say “no” to the man.

— I knew there was something fundamentally wrong about it, but just couldn't quite put my finger on it. I'm a firm believer that there's only one person responsible for any crime, and that's the criminal. If the death penalty were to be reintroduced, I would sooner see it used on rapists than murderers. So I know the problem isn't that I think rape's OK. And yet I'm also a firm believer in accepting the consequences of one's actions. Walking into a Rangers pub with a Tricolor on a match day and shouting "Fuck the Queen!" is the sort of behaviour that gets you hurt, and, if you do something so stupid, you are partly responsible for the pain you end up in — even though every single Rangers fan who kicks you is entirely responsible for their actions too, and should be punished for them.

All very confusing. Until that marvellous Solent woman went and explained it all properly:

Amnesty seems to share some of the same faulty and worrying assumptions about responsibility for rape with those whose responses to the survey caused such concern. The questions asked in the survey (asking whether a woman was "partially or totally responsible for being raped" in various circumstances) pushed the respondents into assuming that responsibility for a crime works like settling the liability for costs relating to a road accident: a pie chart where the responsibility is split between the two sides, where for instance Driver A has to pay 75% and Driver B 25%.

Amnesty's view is that the rapist should get 100% liability — but it still implicitly accepts the framework that the more the woman is blamed the less the man should be.


I see no contradiction between holding that the guilt of rape is not one whit lessened if the victim was drunk, or dressed in skimpy clothing, or has had many sexual partners — and at the same time holding that the woman in the case I mentioned was foolish. Being drunk in a city centre at three a.m. while wearing a miniskirt does increase your chances of rape, predictably so. We should work towards a world where women were as free in fact as they are in law to go where they like, when they like and dress as they like — but that world does not exist at present. One way of working towards it is to have severe penalties for rape and to denounce the view that rape can be excused.

I think my "there is no pie chart" opinion, or something like it, is fairly common. When doing surveys it often happens that none of the choices match what I think, so I just have to choose the least bad match.

I note that the Amnesty press release spoke of "blame" whereas the poll questions quoted spoke of "responsibility." There is a distinction. Personally, I don't think it's the right distinction to make. I don't like the "pie chart" model for responsibility or blame, but many of the respondents may have been trying to get across the point that in one perfectly defensible sense of the word "responsible", women should be responsible when it comes to the risks they take. If I am right these respondents are now saying angrily, "But I'd have answered differently if they had talked about blame."

Exactly. Exactly, exactly, exactly. Thank you.

Sunday 27 November 2005

A new friend.

We've been thinking about this for ages. The last couple of weeks, it's been getting higher and higher in our priorities. Finally, on Friday night — well, Friday afternoon, but it looks like night at this time of year — off we went to one of Northern Ireland's dog pounds. Like many these days, they upload photos of the latest strays to the Web, and we'd seen an old collie with a white face that we liked the look of.

As it turned out, the collie was lovely, but, we reckoned, a bit too frail and doddery to put up with the insane bounciness of Phoebe. But just look who we met:

We've called him Monty. He's about two years old, and no-one knows his original name, but he's picking up the new one quickly enough. He appears to be a Staff-Lab cross, though I think there may also be some bison in the mix. He's as strong as an ox; is slightly frightened of Phoebe, not seeming to realise that he could probably kill her with one blow from his mighty paw; is friendly and dopey and affable and just loves us. In fact, he seems to love everyone, including other dogs and small children. He snores like a train — even when he's awake — and drools everywhere. When he has a drink, he dribbles it over half the kitchen floor, walks in that, then walks over the other half of the kitchen floor. He's largely untrained — doesn't even know "Sit" yet — but he's eager to please and nowhere near as stupid as he is dopey, so he'll get there. And he's settled in with us like he's been here his whole life.

Why would someone get rid of such a lovely dog? We'll never know, but my theory is that someone wanted more of a butch attack-dog and got rid of him for being sedate and loving. He's got a lot of bites on his ears, so has been in fights. Seeing the way he behaves with other dogs, the only way that happened is that he was attacked. Repeatedly. Shame.

By the way, careful viewing of that photo will reveal the sternly disapproving face of Boris, my mother-in-law's black Lab, in the background.

Friday 25 November 2005


Anyone set up a new PC recently? I've just set up five, at work. Nice machines. XP's not as quite good as OSX, but it's still pretty damn good. But there is a slight problem with the Microsoft Windows Update site that they really need to address.

I run Windows Update and Internet Explorer opens up and tells me it can't view the page because it doesn't have the right software. OK, so it's the first time this PC has ever accessed the Windows Update site, so I wouldn't expect it to have the software yet. Fair enough. And the page is showing me a handy user-friendly install button, so that's fair enough, too. Nothing complicated or unreasonable here. So I install the software — only takes a few seconds — the page refreshes, and I get this:

Get the latest Windows Update software.

We've made improvements to our website. To download the new version of the software and begin using Windows Update, please click Install Now.

What the fuck? I just installed it twenty seconds ago, and you're telling me it wasn't the latest version? Why the hell not?

So I install the latest version. It takes a couple of minutes. And, finally:

Welcome to Windows Update

Aha! It's working. Now I have a couple of little install buttons to click. One of which I do.

Checking for the latest updates for your computer...

Yes? And?

To use this latest version of Windows Update, you will need to upgrade some of its components.

Oh, you utter plonkers.

Monday 21 November 2005

Another small step towards a Grand Unification Theory.

For many years now, my motto has been "The worst thing about being cynical is being right." This especially apples to one's interactions with other human beings, and so is occasionally reworded as "The worst thing about being paranoid is being right."

Anyway, my last post gave rise to a brief email conversation with a friend of mine about the nature of paranoia, and, thinking about it, I suddenly realised that my motto — let's call it Squander's Law — is itself a sub-class of Sod's Law. Sod's Law (known in the USA as Murphy's Law, partly because a NASA engineer named Murphy was the first to kind of formalise the law and partly because, to Americans, a sod is a big lump of earth) is usually expressed as:

If anything possibly can go wrong, it will.

It takes only a little thinking to see that Squander's Law can be stated as:

If anyone possibly can be out to get you, they will.

Since people being out to get you is a subclass of things going wrong, Squander's Law is therefore simply a special case of Sod's Law. QED.

Interestingly, experiments have shown that Sod's Law holds true except when you investigate it, at which point, of course, its failure to be true demonstrates its truth. Therefore, people will generally be out to get you unless you try to find out whether anyone's out to get you — at which point their failure to be out to get you is merely yet another way of messing with your head. The only time people aren't out to get you is when to be out to get you would be to prove you right. The moment you suspect nothing, there is everything to suspect.

So, there you have it: a rigorous scientific demonstration that paranoids are correct.

Do I get a series of Christmas lectures?

Friday 18 November 2005

Boom tish.

Probably an old one, but I hadn't heard it before.

You can learn a lot about paranoids, just by following them around.

Thursday 17 November 2005


Not a lot to say about this, other than that it happened and that it's awful:

Ralph Parker had shown signs of dementia before, but his condition worsened dramatically over the past week. Argumentative one minute, calm the next.

Alarmed, Parker's son left Idaho on Wednesday to get his 93-year-old father in a safe place, police said.

Before he could get here, his dad backed his gold Chevrolet Malibu out of the driveway and went for a drive.

It ended horribly. Parker hit a man crossing 34th Street S, severing the man's right leg, then drove 3 miles with the body stuck in the windshield.

When police asked Parker what happened, he said the body seemed to drop from the sky.

Parker thought it was December and that he was headed home to Pinellas Park, not south toward the Sunshine Skyway bridge, police said.

The case is an extreme example of a complicated and enduring issue in Florida and everywhere: When is someone too old to drive? Experts say there is no reliable test or quick answer.

The event contradicts those experts. Presumably, they mean there's no safe reliable test and there's no quick answer before the test occurs.

Last year, nearly 270,000 people age 85 or older were licensed to drive in Florida. Of those, at least 20 percent are considered "dementia drivers," with a mild to moderate condition, according to a 2004 state report.


Friday 11 November 2005

Food and sunlight.

Ramadan's just over, and it got me wondering. Islam seems to have spread to most corners of the globe; has it reached the Arctic Circle? If so, what do Muslims up there do when they have to fast during the hours of daylight and the sun doesn't set for two months? Are there special rules? Or do they fly south?

I have asked a Muslim friend, but she doesn't know.


The Pedant-General has one real-life answer. (There are probably hundreds of others.)

A fatwa followed that decreed that the sun could be considered to be below the horizon between 9pm and 3am, during which time the fast could be broken.

Call me suspicious, but that doesn't sound much like the word of God to me.

Wednesday 9 November 2005

My new favourite band.

The last gig of the tour was last Friday in Dunfermline, and I'm sure you've all been driving yourself mad with tenterhooks wondering how it went. So here's how it went.

Firstly, we got lost. That is absolutely the last time I trust So we were about two hours late for the soundcheck. Oops.

As it turned out, though, that didn't matter a bit. The promoters were lovely laid-back friendly people, and the first band were still soundchecking when we arrived and, indeed, were still soundchecking more than half an hour after we'd arrived. They had oodles of high-tech equipment on stage: they were running a huge rack of effects off a laptop which was warping the sound of most of their instruments in real time. They even had their own snare-drum mic, so that they could sod around with the snare sound live. How very tiresome. This is the sort of thing that big stadium bands can get away with but that bands on the local gigging circuit should avoid. Too much stuff to go wrong and too much time wasted during soundcheck, delaying other bands. And a waste of time, too: I've seen loads of electronic bands waste an hour or so setting up eight or nine keyboards just because they use them all at home, then make maybe ten different sounds, all of which are available on just one keyboard. If you're going to play live, put some thought into your set-up: keep it minimal.

At least, that's what I usually say. But I quickly took it all back, since the offenders on this occasion — Laki Mera, they were called — were quite, quite brilliant. They're the only band I've ever seen in a pub-size venue to use loads and loads of technology and to use every last bit of it to great effect. I was blown away by how good they were, and I just want to buy their records now. Which is tricky, 'cause they don't have any. They make atmospheric, murky, mournful, jazz melodies with clattering drums and odd riffs and a non-gratuitous cellist, sounding a bit like Lamb, a bit like Alpha, and a bit like Crustation — their singer sounds a lot like the great Bronagh Slevin — so that's like a mixture of three of my favourite bands ever, right there. Talking to them afterwards, I discovered that they haven't heard of any of those names, which made me feel a bit old: they must be listening to the bands that listened to Alpha, Lamb, and Crustation. I also discovered that their singer once did some vocals for Colin Bailey, our ex-bassist. Small world.

The other thing they told me was that, despite sounding absolutely fucking amazing to me, they thought the gig had been dreadful. We were shortly to discover why.

The sound engineer, Mick, was excellent. He knew the rig back to front and got a great sound for us at the soundcheck: superb out front, and great monitoring on stage. Then he went away, leaving his assistant in charge. We thought something might be wrong as soon as we went on stage, when we were asked to provide signals to check the levels. For the non-musicians reading, this is how a gig works: you soundcheck so that the engineer can get you sounding just right; the engineer takes a note of all the settings; later, you go on stage and the engineer need only read their notes and return the knobs and faders to where they were to give you the same sound. Having soundchecked earlier, it's highly unusual to be asked to provide levels again when the gig starts. The engineer should already know the levels.

In short, the great, near-perfect sound we had during the soundcheck was never to be heard again. After a couple of songs, it got even worse: the engineer removed all vocals from the monitors for some reason, so Donna couldn't hear herself — bad news for any singer. We asked in vain for it to be turned up again. Tsk.

Apparently, we played quite well. It's a shame we didn't get to hear it.

Anyway, Laki Mera, eh? Amazing.

Monday 7 November 2005

The putrid stench of death.

What is coffee-breath? Why are so many people able to imbibe huge amounts of coffee without ever suffering — or, more precisely, causing everyone downwind of them to suffer — from the condition, while a select few need only gulp a couple of mouthfuls of the stuff in order to smell like they've got a plague pit stuck between their teeth? Why do those people who do get coffee-breath not gag and suffocate on their own emissions, squirming to death? If they're aware of what's coming out of their mouths, why do they continue to drink coffee? And why do they always have something terribly important to explain to me in great detail?

Thursday 3 November 2005

Outdone by reality. Again.

I should have held back. No sooner do I mention a really stupid court case than a far, far stupider one comes along.

The True Stella Awards is an email newsletter run by Randy Cassingham, containing details of stupid American lawsuits. Randy believes that the American legal system needs reform, and the True Stella Awards are his way of encouraging Americans to discuss the issue, as he believes that widespread discussion is the best way to bring about sensible change. He's probably right, but — let's face it — for the rest of us, it's just a highly entertaining opportunity to laugh at America's stupidest people, all of whom have lawyers.

Enter Mr Christopher Roller, nutter.

There is some confusion about calling myself God (with big G). So I am going to call myself the Love God (with the need to breed), or Guide God, or God of Christopher — a messenger god (small g), a deity, who will guide us to heavenly salvation, guided/directed from above by God. Latest emails indicates the trend is calling me "idiot" and hope I burn in hell! I am truly loved. Take a poll of Chris Roller! Don't hate me for the wonderful Freak I am! If you don't like what I represent, then let me prove myself over the next few years. Watch as I create heaven here on Earth!

Mr Roller is suing David Blaine and David Copperfield, for obvious reasons. Here's his suit against Copperfield (the suit against Blaine is exactly the same):

David Copperfield has been using my godly powers to perform his magic. This is a labor dispute in accordance with Minn Statute 179.06 for past/future commission compensation. explains my life and my journey to godliness. I believe David Copperfield has been using my godly powers to perform his magic.

We've all seen clips of UFO videos. They dance around in the sky at the speed of thought. So we know that godly powers can coexist on planet Earth. Godly powers means using thought to control actions/results, usually defying explanation and laws of physics. I believe magicians have also been granted godly powers by me somehow, but they have been keeping it a secret and keeping the credits from me.

If David has godly powers, then he must be using my powers. That, or I need detailed explanation (in person) of how he does his tricks, performed/explained in the courtroom (complete confidentiality), and I will leave him alone if I'm wrong - i.e. tricks/illusions are done conventionally. I've politely asked David, via email, to show me how his tricks are done, with no response.

If godly, I want back-pay compensation - 10% past/future career earnings. Estimating 10% of past career earnings of over $50,000,000.

I particularly like the way he guarantees complete confidentiality in a public court.

Amazingly, it gets better. Oh, yes. How, you might wonder, did David Copperfield steal Mr Roller's godly powers? Easy to do if you already have godly powers (not that Mr Roller has managed to steal them back, mind), but trickier for a mere mortal. Think about it: you have no supernatural powers; you know of a man who is God incarnate; how do you go about stealing his omnipotence? You'll need help from an expert. An expert in religion, perhaps, and definitely an expert in theft. In short, you need the Mafia.

On May 19, 2005 if , I met the son of a billionaire mob boss, Doug, at karaoke. He told me he and his family has met David Copperfield at least three times. I don't think I'm reaching when I say that I believe David Copperfield has mob connections. In fact, I believe the agent who granted David Copperfield's powers (I talk about in my other memos) came via mob agents - Doug's dad perhaps.

Ah, Doug's dad: head of the notorious "Doug's family" Family.

Roller rightly highlights the dangers of this situation:

Now we all know the stereotype of the mob - they're evil and don't care about human life and humanity. I'd hate to imagine the mob philosophy with godly powers at their disposal - the powers they somehow acquired from me when I was young.

So would I; so, I'm sure, would we all.

You might be wondering if there's any proof of these allegations. Happily, there is. Mr Roller used a combination of subtle questioning, astute observation, and the blinding heat of sheer logic to trick Doug into giving this... well, confession. As good as, anyway:

In my talks with Doug, he mentioned he could have 10 of his boys show up if he needed. This was shortly before insisting I was not god.

You might be interested to know that Bill Gates is going to be Chris Roller's running mate in the 2008 Presidential Election.

Wednesday 2 November 2005

A crash.

I was in a car-crash a few minutes ago. Nothing serious — I can still move my arms enough to blog. Actually, there's no damage at all, which is kind of a shame, because the guy who caused the crash needs to learn to drive, and an accident that cost him nothing but mild embarassment probably isn't going to be the necessary incentive. On the plus side, it's nice not to have whiplash.

It was at traffic lights. I was sitting at the red light, handbrake on. Now, you're probably thinking that he was going too fast and didn't manage to stop in time. Nope. His car was stationary, too. So my car wasn't moving, his car was behind mine, not moving, and the car behind him wasn't moving, either — he didn't have the excuse of being shoved. Yet, somehow — I'm guessing through sheer tongue-dragging, gravel-eating idiocy — he managed to crash into me.

He seemed quite surprised, but then he's probably surprised when the sun rises every morning.